4.5 SPARC Graphic Card Issues

Those of you who use Sun SPARCstations know that Solaris 2.5 was released November '95. Some of you have already upgraded from 2.3 or 2.4, though we at MIPS haven't. However, we will probably go to 2.5 sometime this year. After that, VICAR support for 2.3 and 2.4 will be more difficult, since we won't have systems with these Solaris versions at our site.

Most HIIPS prefer a 24-bit color display on their workstations. However, the familiar GS (cgtwelve/cg12) and GT 24-bit Sun graphics devices are not officially supported on Solaris 2.5. We haven't come up with a cheap 24-bit card that will help you upgrade to 2.5. If any of you have faced this problem already, please send me a note and tell me what you found.

Use the command:

% /etc/prtconf | grep cg

to tell if you have a cgtwelve (GS) graphics device.

The GT graphics device is a separate (usually floor-standing) box, as large as the system cabinet itself, labeled "Graphics Tower". You'll know it if you have one.

The Solaris 2.5 "SPARC: Installation Notes" manual says at the start of Chapter 5, "EOL Statements" (page 37): This chapter describes end-of-life (EOL) statements in addition to those listed in the online "eol" file in the "SUNWrdm" package on the Solaris 2.5 CD.

"GS: The GS (3-slot) graphics device is no longer supported in the Solaris 2.5 operating system."

"GT: The GT graphics device is no longer supported in the Solaris 2.5 operating system."

Choices for 24-bit color on a SPARCstation-10

The CG8 is ancient, slow, only does 640x480 and has one 24-bit TrueColor visual.

The SX would be ideal, but it's not a card: it requires a motherboard swap.

The ZX & TurboZX cards are expensive ($7k and up) and are overkill for the needs of basic 24-bit accelerated color.

That leaves the RasterFLEX-32 card, $1,995 list from ConnectWare, http://www.connectware.com/c-works/rastrflx.html. The latest software release for the RasterFLEX card is 4.3, which is already a year and a half old. The Solaris bits on it purport to support 2.5, but the documentation (itself a year old) only mentions Solaris 2.3 and 2.4)

Aries also supplies SPARC graphics cards, http://www.swanlake.com/aries/graphic.html. Parallax supplies high-end digital video cards that also have 24-bit display, http://www.parallax.com/products/sun/xvideo.html. Aries and ConnectWare may be sources of information on graphics device compatibility issues.

Graphics Card Hardware Upgrades from Sun

Below are a few Sun hardware upgrade packages from http://pennsun.essc.psu.edu/customerweb/PriceList/WebPrice/HardwareUpgrades.html. This could be a good opportunity to both solve the Solaris 2.5 graphics device problem and convince your boss to get a much faster CPU for your lab! You may be able to get a discount if you're a GSA or University user.

      $12,595.00 (A)
      Module/graphics upgrade bundle, with a SuperSPARC 75MHz processor including 1MB
      SuperCache, 32MB of SPARCstation 10 memory and ZX graphics. Customer must
      return a SPARCstation 10 M20, M30, M40, M41, M51 or M61 module and a graphics
      SBUS card. 

      $12,595.00 (A)
      Module/graphics upgrade bundle, with a SuperSPARC 75MHz processor including 1MB
      SuperCache, 32MB of SPARCstation 20 memory and ZX graphics. Customer must
      return a SPARCstation 20 M50, M51 or M61 module and a graphics SBUS card. 

      $5,495.00 (A)
      Upgrades to SPARCstation 5 From SPARCstation 1 and 1+, SPARCsttion SLC,
      SPARCstation ELC, SPARCstation IPC, or SPARCclassic Systems SPARCstation 1/1+,
      SPARCstation SLC, SPARCstation ELC, SPARCstation IPC, or SPARCclassic Chassis
      Upgrade to SPARCstation 5 Model 110 TurboGX Graphics, 32 Mbytes

      $6,495.00 (A)
      GS & GT SBus graphics card upgrade from a SPARCstation 5, 10 or 20 to ZX 

Using the GS framebuffer under Solaris 2.5:

From           Steve Barnet <steve.barnet@ssec.wisc.edu>
Organization   UW-Madison Space Science and Engineering
Date           Tue, 14 May 1996 12:46:20 -0500
Newsgroups     comp.unix.solaris

I've had a number of questions about getting the GS frame buffer
(cg12) working under Solaris 2.5, so a posting seems to be in order.

At this time, please recite the standard disclaimer and pay careful
attention to the bits about this being an unblessed configuration.

Having said all that, the process was pretty straightforward.

During the Solaris 2.5 install, your console will not function in the
standard Openwindows mode. You should, however, be able to get through
the text version of the installation. I'm not sure of the particulars
here (it's been a while).

The GS drivers are on the Solaris 2.4 distribution CD. In my case,
that was a slightly older version of 2.4 (HW 11/94), but I believe
this will remain constant. Specifically, they are on slice 0 of the
CD in the Solaris_2.4 directory. For me this was:


This directory contains all of the packages that make up Solaris.
From here, there are two ways to go:

Note: this will require a few megs of disk space in / and /var

1) you can use swmtool diplayed remotely to handle the installation
   a) Set your Source Media to a Mounted Directory (if you're using vold)
   b) Set the Directory name appropriately (the s0/Solaris_2.4 directory)
   c) Select the Entire distribution cluster and double click to expand
   d) Scroll down the list until you find the GS (cg12) OS Support Files
   e) Install

2) you can use pkgadd to install the drivers
   a) Find the appropriate directory on the installation CD
   b) Locate the appropriate package for your machine architecture
      On our system there are three packages associated with the GS card
      SUNWgs and SUNWgsu are required, I'm not sure about SUNWgsow
   c) Use pkgadd to install the packages I'm not sure about package
      dependencies, but with a little luck pkgadd will get it right

A reboot should get you up and running.

Possible problems:

  This is not a blessed configuration, so there may be some very subtle
  bugs that arise. I've only tried this on one machine and it seems to
  work correctly. There have, however, been a few reports of the console
  display freezing (at times on the order of minutes) while all other
  aspects of the machine function correctly. This may be due to this
  little hack, or bugs in the CDE. I'm not sure at this time.